Food & Drink

Vietnamese Spring Rolls

This year, I gave up flour for Lent.  That means goodbye cookies, cakes, bread, and pasta.  Hello rice and potatoes!  I’m surprised by how many delicious dishes I am able to eat without breaking Lent.  One of my favorites –  Vietnamese spring rolls.  I always order these when I go out to a Vietnamese restaurant.  Spring rolls, unliked their fried cousins, are light yet filling, filled with veggies, and is incredibly flavorful.

Spring rolls typically have mint leaves in the rolls.  However, I’m not huge fan of eating mint leaves, so I opt to leave that out.  What I love about this recipe is that you can be super creative with this.  You can put whatever veggies you want in them.  Just make sure they are chopped up in similar size.  This recipe will yield about 12 spring rolls, enough to serve 6 people (or 4 very hungry people).

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Servings: 4-6

Ingredients
Spring Rolls
– 4 cucumbers, cut into matchsticks
– 8 lettuce leaves, thinly sliced
– 1 bunch fresh cilantro
– 4oz rice noodles
– 8-10 spring roll wrappers

Crispy Tofu
– 1 package extra firm tofu (~12-14 oz), drained and pat dry
– 3 tbs cornstarch
– 3 tbs vegetable oil
– 2 tbs peanut butter sauce (recipe below)
– 1 tb soy sauce (use GF if desired)
– 1 tb brown sugar
Peanut Butter Dipping Sauce
– 1/3 cup peanut butter
– 1 tb soy sauce (use GF if desired)
– 2 tbs honey (use agave for vegan)
– 1 tb lemon juice
– 1 tsp chili bean paste (optional)
– 1/4 cup hot water
Method
1. Cook rice noodles according to package instuctions.  Drain and set aside.
2. Combine all the ingredients of the peanut butter dipping sauce.  Slowly add the hot water to thin this out.  You might not need all 1/4 cup.  The consistency should be easy-to-pour but still a little viscous.
3. Cut the tofu into thin slices.  Coat with cornstarch.  In a skillet over medium heat, pan fry the tofu in vegetable oil.  Cook each side until golden brown.  Take 2 tbs of the pre-mixed peanut butter dipping sauce and mix with an additional 1 tb soy sauce and 1 tb brown sugar.  Pour this over the tofu and cook until all the sauce is absorbed.
4. Prepare a shallow plate with hot water.  Soften the spring roll wrapper in the hot water (5-10 seconds).
5. On a dry plate, place one sheet of spring roll wrapper.  Place cucumbers, cilantro, lettuce, rice noodles, and tofu on the bottom of the wrapper.  Wrapping like a burrito, fold in the sides, then roll up.  Serve with dipping sauce.
Adapted from Minimalist Baker
Food & Drink

Slow Cooker BBQ Turkey Meatballs

I don’t really like handling meat, so on the rare occasion that I do make a meat dish, I try to make it as easy as possible.  When I was perusing on Pinterest, I saw a slew of meatball recipes for beef or pork.  But I typically only cook poultry at home, so I thought of developing a recipe for turkey meatballs that can be made in a slow cooker.

I love BBQ sauce in general, so I thought of cooking the meatballs in a BBQ sauce instead of the traditional marinara.  This pairs beautifully with vegetables and potatoes.  Using garlic and ginger is so important in this recipe.  I have found that turkey and chicken usually need garlic and ginger to counter the “smell”.

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients
Meatballs
– 1 lb ground turkey
– 1 egg
– 1 small onion, finely diced
– 1 clove garlic, minced
– 1 small piece of ginger, minced
– 1/3 cup bread crumbs
– Salt & pepper, to taste

BBQ Sauce
– 1 cup BBQ sauce
– 1 tsp paprika
– 1/2 tsp salt

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Method
1. Mix all the meatball ingredients in a large bowl.  Shape into meatballs.  Heat 1 tsp of oil in a frying pan over medium heat.  Brown the meatballs on all sides.
2. In a small bowl, mix together the BBQ sauce ingredients.  Place BBQ sauce and meatballs into the slow cooker.  Cook on low for 4-6 hours, until meatballs are cooked through.  Stir halfway through.  You can use additional BBQ sauce as a glaze when serving.  Garnish with your favorite herbs, if desired.

*Note:  I use a homemade BBQ sauce, so I added paprika and salt for extra flavor.  If you are using a store-bought sauce, you do not need to add paprika/salt unless you want a bolder flavor.  When you are browning the meatballs, they don’t have to be fully-cooked.  They will cook the rest of the way in the slow cooker.  Just make sure you get a nice color on them so they don’t stick together in the slow cooker.

Zero Waste

Sustainable Eye Care

ff45f7f8_contact-lenses-advantages

If you are one of those lucky people with 20/20 vision (like my husband), I envy you.  But for the unlucky souls like me, I wanted to offer a few tips on keeping your eye care as sustainable as possible.

Glasses

I wear glasses at least 1 day out of the week, just to give my eyes a rest from contacts.  I also switch to glasses the minute I am done with work for the day.  Glasses are a lot more sustainable than contacts, but obviously they aren’t the best option for everyone.  Here are a few tips to keep your waste down when you use glasses:

  • Re-use your frame: Glasses prescriptions last 2 years.  When your prescription is up, just have your optomistrist swap out the lens.  You will save a lot of money.  I spent about $150 on my Ermenegildo Zegna frames, and I don’t plan on swapping them out anytime soon.  If you absolutely need to change your frame, you can have your optomistrist swap out the lenses for a pair of shades or no prescription lenses.  You can have a cute fashion statement or sunglasses.
  • Ditch the lens wipes: These are expensive and usually packaged individually, creating lots of waste.  I just use castile soap, warm water, and the cloth that my glasses came in to clean my lens.

Contacts

There are no zero waste options for contacts.  Nor do I think there should be.  I feel like in order to make sure everything is sterile, it’s impossible to have a zero waste option for contact solution or contact lens.  However, you can still be conscious and sustainable to divert 100% of the waste from landfills.

  • Switch to bi-weekly or monthly contacts:  It’ll save you lots of money.  Dailies typically cost a lot more than bi-weekly or monthly contacts.  You will also save a lot of packaging from being produced.  For example, if you use monthly contacts, you will only create 12 pairs of packaging.  If you use dailies, that’s 365 pairs of packaging a year.
  • Recycle every part of your contact solution packaging:  These usually come in a cardboard box that is recyclable.  The bottle will also have a little plastic shrink wrap on the cap.  I drop these off at my local grocery store (where you can also drop off plastic bags).  The plastic bottle is typically made from #2 HDPE plastic, which is easily recyclable.
  • Recycle contacts blister packaging and your lens:  Depending on your municipality, your blister packaging might actually recyclable through your curbside recycling program.  If not, Bausch + Lomb has this cool recycling program where you can send in your contact packaging (and the used contact lens) for free.
Zero Waste

Thank you, for sparking joy.

I’ve always considered myself a clean and tidy person.  Clean as in I scrub every inch of my house frequently, and tidy as in I regularly organize my space.  To be honest, I’ve never been the kind of person who had to say to a guest, “yeah it’s a bit messy right now…”.  However, even though I pride myself on being a clean and tidy person, I often find that I have to do “spring cleaning” throughout the year and clear out stuff so I can feel refreshed in my home.

I’ve heard of Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for a few years now (thank you Pinterest)but I never thought I needed a book to teach me how to tidy up and organize since I was already an organized person.  Then the Gilmore Girls revival happened.  My favorite character, Emily Gilmore, became a Kon-vert when her husband passed away and she sets off to de-clutter her life.  A curious Google search and hours of YouTube videos later, I bought the book.

Compared to the average American, I don’t have a lot of stuff.  Keep in mind, I’m 26, just married, and have no children.  So when I was reading about Kondo’s clients with mountains of clothing and possessions, that was hard for me to relate to.  I definitely am not a minimalist, but I have significantly less things than your average twenty-something.  But one concept sunk in for me.  In the book, Kondo goes in-depth to explain her process of de-cluttering.  She de-clutters by category and in order – clothes, books, papers, misc, momento.  As she works through each category, she’d hold each item in her hands and ask the question “does this spark joy?”

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It felt a little bit silly to hold a blouse and ask myself, “does this spark joy?”  But after a few attempts, I understood why she asks this vital question.  Like I’ve said before, I don’t have that much stuff.  But somehow, I have to take boxes of donation items to Goodwill several times a year.  How is that possible?  For me, I get lured by the idea of sales or something that catches my eye, and I purchase it.  Although that item might have some use for me or my household, it doesn’t really enrich my life.  So eventually it sees itself in the Goodwill box.

One thing that really spoke to me about the book was how as you get rid of stuff that don’t spark joy, you have to thank it.  One of my really good friends from college is Japanese.  She’s not religious, but before every meal, she’d say “itadakimasu”, which roughly translates to “I humbly receive”.  This notion of gratitude for the hands that have prepared the food is really similar to my Christian upbringing when we’d say grace at the dinner table.  Being Asian myself, some of the Japanese cultural acts like greeting your house when you enter, or always maintaining thankfulness isn’t that foreign.

For me, thanking an item for keeping me warm or being a good read is closure.  I think I had trouble getting rid of some things in the past because I didn’t bring myself to acknowledge my journey with the item.  For example, I kept the dress I wore to my college graduation for a long time even though it was no longer my style because it has that sentimental feeling attached to it.  But it no longer “sparked joy”, so it was time to say goodbye.  Thanking the dress for such a wonderful memory of graduating college with my friends gave me sufficient closure and the reassurance that I won’t regret this when it’s out of my hands.

It’s almost like a good breakup.  Before I started dating my husband, I had one serious boyfriend.  When we ended things, we both expressed our appreciation for one another and wished each other the best.  We don’t talk anymore.  But to me, that was an excellent closure.  We enjoyed each other’s company when we were in each other’s lives.  But when that chapter ended, we moved on to better things.

thankyou

I think if we are fortunate enough to own a lot of material possessions, more often than not, we don’t treat them with proper respect.  Our mindset is often that of “hey, I bought it,  I can do whatever I want with it.  If it breaks, I’ll go out and buy another.”  But this kind of attitude is quite negative.  So doing exercises like thanking inanimate objects might sound odd at first, but it does change your perspective on treating everything you own with proper respect.

For me, the KonMari method has really fit into my zero waste lifestyle seamlessly.  I’m a lot more picky on what I want entering my house.  Things don’t enter my house because they are a good deal or on clearance.  They have to enrich my life.  In de-cluttering my life, a lot of my belongings got sent to thrift stores, where they will hopefully spark joy in someone else’s life.

Food & Drink

Homemade Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs is one of those pantry items that seems cheap, but really isn’t.  A can of breadcrumbs typically costs from $1-3, which doesn’t seem that bad.  But what if I can tell you that you can make the same amount for only pennies?  Man, Progresso is really rolling in the dough (haha).

The breadcrumbs will keep about 1 month in a sealed container.  This recipe is most representative of the Panko (Japanese) style breadcrumbs.  You can add a teaspoon of Italian seasoning to make it taste like an Italian-style breadcrumbs.  I typically will make this in a big batch and use throughout the month.

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Yield: 1 cups

Ingredients
– 2 slices of white bread
– 1 tsp Italian seasoning (optional: for Italian-style breadcrumbs)

Method
1. Rip the white bread into small pieces and place in a food processor.  Process until fine crumbs form.  If you are adding Italian seasoning, process the seasoning with the breadcrumbs as well.
2. Toast in a 300°F oven for 10-15 minutes, until light brown.
3. You can toss the breadcrumbs back in the food processor and pulse until your desired consistency.  Let cool and store in an airtight container.

Food & Drink

3-Ingredient Strawberry Jam

I was watching Friends the other day, and in the episode, Monica had just broken up with Richard.  With her apartment taken over by the hoard of fresh berries and fruit, she said, “I’m sick and tired of being depressed about Richard. I needed a plan. A plan to get over my man! And what’s the opposite of man? Jam!”

Not going to lie, but every time I watch that episode, I get a craving … for jam.

I’ve been making my own jam for a few years now.  I like to keep jam making super simple  – one pot, three ingredients.  A lot of jam recipes out there require pectin, which is a natural natural fiber found in a lot of fruits.  It acts as a preservative and thickener for your jams and jellies.  I typically will use pectin for fruits that have a harder time jelling on their own – like peaches and apricots.  But berries have loads of pectin and can create a fabulous jam on their own.  So I typically don’t use pectin in my berry jams.

You can use canning methods to make big batch of this jam.  For me and husband, we will go through this jam in about 2 months.  I usually split the jam into two 8-oz mason jars.  I will freeze one jar and use up the other jar first.  Since I am not using the hot water bath to can these jams, they will begin to go bad after a month or so.

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Yield: 1 pint

Ingredients
– 1 lb fresh strawberries
– 1 cup sugar
– 2 tbs lemon juice

Method
1. Remove stems from strawberries, dice into small pieces.
2. In a medium saucepan, add the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice.  Bring to a gentle boil over low heat.  Then bring the heat up to medium for a rolling boil.  Cook until the jam can pass the plate test or to 220F.
3. If you prefer jams with fruit pieces, you can use a large fork and press down on the larger strawberry pieces until your desired consistency.  If you prefer a smoother jam, you can use an immersion blender and blend the mixture.

Plate test:  Before you start making the jam, put a freezer-safe plate in the freezer.  When testing the jam, spoon out a small amount on the chilled plate and wait 30 seconds.  Tilt the plate.  If the jam is moving like slow lava, it is ready.  If it is runny and thin, continue cooking.

Zero Waste

Sustainable Hair Care

dsc_3610I’m so, so, so excited to write this post.  I’ve gone about 7 months of no-poo, and my hair has never been fuller, healthier, and shinier.  No-poo is the practice of washing your hair without commercial shampoo.  It runs the spectrum from using only water (purest form of no-poo) to someone like me who uses shampoo soap bars and other natural alternatives.  I wanted to share with you my entire hair care routine and my alternatives to commercial products.  Here are some benefits to doing a sustainable hair care routine:

  • Inexpensive – depending on what brand of shampoo you use and how much shampoo you use each time, you could be running to the store every other month buying a new bottle.  I use a shampoo bar that costs around $3-4, which lasts me about 3 months.
  • Less oily – I used to have to wash my hair every single day to prevent my hair looking like an oily mess.  Commercial shampoos often strip the natural oils on your hair.  While we might think that’s good and it’ll make our hair look cleaner, our body ends up producing more oil to replace what was stripped.  Shampoo bars don’t strip the oils, they simply clean the excess oils off.  What I’ve found is that I can skip a day or two of washing my hair and it will still look and feel great.
  • Travel friendly – No more bringing bottles of hair products with me!  One bar and I’m ready to go!

Here is what is in my regular hair routine (scroll down for recipes):

  • Shampoo – I typically buy this at the farmers market, or at the local co-op.  You will typically find them package-free.  At my co-op, you can actually slice your own soap, neat huh?  The featured image is a gift from a friend who got it from her local farmers market.  That’s typically the most packaging you’ll see – just a paper label that you can recycle or compost.  I am currently using goat milk shampoo bars.  But I have used vegan shampoo bars in the past, and they work just as well.
  • Conditioner – I remember I used to use conditioner every single day.  I would glob a large amount to make sure that my hair is smooth and shiny.  No more!  I use apple cider vinegar as a conditioning rinse 2x a week, and my hair is shiny and does not tangle, ever!
  • Deep Conditioner – Remember when all the beauty blogs told you that coconut oil is a miracle worker?  Well, it still is!  When my hair is feeling parched, I’ll take a quarter size of coconut oil and massage it in my hair.  I let this sit for a few hours and I wash it off.  My hair is super soft every time I do this.
  • Scalp Massage Oil – Because castor oil stimulates the production of collagens, it is the perfect scalp massage oil.  Some have said that castor oil helps them grow thicker and longer hair.  For me, the thick oil just feels amazing as a scalp massage oil.  I use a dime size all over my scalp (unlike the coconut oil, I don’t rub this on my hair).  I do this once a month.
  • Beach Spray – Move aside, Bumble & Bumble!  Although Bumble & Bumble Surf Spray is a lot of people’s holy grail product, it’s ridiculously expensive.  I make my own when I want to achieve effortless beach waves.
  • Heat Protectant – I don’t use heat tools very often (only for special occasions), but I do blow dry my hair every night.  I use a small amount of argan oil and run that through my hair as a heat protectant.  It helps my hair lock in the shine.
  • Hair Pomade – I have naturally wavy/curly hair that typically don’t need additional styling.  But for when I do style my hair for special occasions, I use a homemade hair pomade.  My husband use this as well.

ACV Rinse
– 2 tbs apple cider vinegar
– 2 cups water
Pour the ACV and water into a bottle.  After shampooing, slowly pour the rinse over hair, avoiding getting into eyes.  Let sit for a few minutes, and rinse off.  Style as usual.

Beach Spray
– 1 cup warm water
– 2 tbs epsom salt
– 1 tsp lemon juice
Combine ingredients and let cool.  Transfer to a spray bottle.

Hair Pomade
– 1 tbs beeswax
– 1 1/2 tbs shea butter
– 2 tbs jojoba oil
Melt ingredients over double boiler.  Remove from heat and let cool.